FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Kyle Rudolph joined his Giants teammates on the field for the first time today and inquiring minds wanted to know if he could feel pain or soreness in his surgically-repaired foot.
"I'm 31 years old and I've played a lot of football," Rudolph said after the first of two joint practices with the New England Patriots. "I feel pretty much everything. That's just the nature of this game. But I tell you one thing I felt, it felt damn good to be back out on the practice field today with my teammates."
It had been a long time coming. The 6-6, 265-pound tight end joined the Giants on March 24 after 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. But the surgery forced him to spend the entire spring and first month of training camp rehabilitating. He was finally permitted to practice today after passing his physical and getting removed from the physically unable to perform/active list.
"This was the first football I've gotten to play since December," Rudolph said. "I've still got a long way to go, a lot of work left ahead, but this is what I love to do. The last few months have been tough just watching each and every day, but I've got to give a ton of credit to our medical staff, our trainers, our doctors. Here I am today back at practice and it felt damn good."
The Giants will proceed slowly with Rudolph, who was limited to individual drills. Though eager to jump back into the action, he declined to speculate if he will be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener vs. Denver.
"These next couple of weeks are huge," Rudolph said. "I just was able to get my feet wet today, but I've got a lot of work left to do. I'm just going to keep working each and every day, chipping away at it. One of my favorite sayings is, 'You eat an elephant one bite at a time, so if I look two weeks from now as, 'Oh my God, how am I going to get ready to play a game', I'll never get there. But if I just take it each day a time, I'll be happy with where I'm at in two weeks."
Asked if his objective is to be ready by opening day, Rudolph said, "My goal is to get better each and every day and make sure that I'm in shape to go when this team needs me."
View photos of the Giants practicing with the Patriots in New England ahead of Sunday's preseason finale.
Rudolph was considered one of the Giants' most important offseason acquisitions. The team hoped he could join newcomer wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney and returning running back Saquon Barkley to provide an array of weapons for quarterback Daniel Jones and invigorate the offense. But Golladay and Toney have missed much of training camp with injuries and Barkley and Rudolph have yet to participate in team drills.
With 453 regular-season receptions and 48 touchdowns, Rudolph arrived with an impressive resume. But given his lack of work, Joe Judge was understandably cautious when asked what a healthy Rudolph can do for Jones.
"We'll have to wait and see," Judge said. "We haven't seen him on the field with Daniel. That'd be unfair to make some kind of prediction or statement for him right now. I know he's working very hard. He obviously has a very accomplished resume. He's a good player. He brings a lot of value in situational football. He's a big target with good hands. You know what, we'll just wait until we see him and Daniel really working together in team situations."
Rudolph's teammates were thrilled to have him on field, even with his limited activity.
"He's played a lot of football at a really high level," Jones said. "He knows the game inside and out. He knows how to make plays. He knows how to get up and catch the ball. I think he'll make a difference for us and I'm excited to get him out there."
Evan Engram, a Pro Bowl tight end last season, said Rudolph adds "everything" to the group.
"He's a receiving threat, he's a blocking threat, he's really smart in the film room," Engram said. "I learn from him. Every meeting he teaches me something and I know it's the same for the rest of the guys. He literally is going to help us in every aspect of the game and I'm really excited about it."
The Giants believe Rudolph and the 6-4 Golladay can be frequent receivers in the red zone. Rudolph said the reason he is so effective in that area is obvious.
"Just a big target," he said. "I've got a lot of basketball in my background. You see carryover between the game of basketball and the tight end position. The thing about the red zone is the windows are a lot tighter, there's a lot less space, but I try to (take) a lot of pride in making tight-window catches and when the quarterback has the confidence in me to throw me the ball in a tight window, catch it for him."
But for Jones to have that conviction, he must develop a rapport with Rudolph, who concurs the partnership is important but will let it develop organically.
When Rudolph underwent surgery, he expressed confidence he would miss no games. He's neither guaranteeing that will be true nor backtracking on his prediction.
"I'm just going to keep working each and every day to make sure that I'm continuing to progress the way I have for the last five months," he said. "Two weeks from now, we'll look up and see where we're at.
"(There is) no change. It's just been, like I said, from the day I had the surgery trying to get better one day at a time with the goal being Week 1."